In that realm, the king is not a hero. Weapons and armor line the hallways of his palace, but mean something different there. On bureaus, credenzas, the thousand unused desks, fresh flowers appear; he wishes they would be replaced each dawn and for that reason watches them turn brown. The servants, all of whose names he knows, who bring him tea, conceal whatever private grief they feel, for they know he would draw it from them, cover his face, and disappear for hours. Likewise his soldiers as they fall are most concerned that this shouldn’t trouble His Majesty. (They still die, however, for that’s the point of nations, even his.)
When he wakes, he tells his corps of analysts his nightmares. These are always bad, but he never fails to suppress or purge their mental backwash, and quietly supplies the worst details. Later, in the gardens, he listens to the music of the crows; admires those fierce survivors. It’s only when he stops before a large and working spiderweb that he needs assistance, as his secretary knows.
In that realm, women carry pails, milk cows, balance ledgers, command divisions. They look into the eyes of men, and if the joke or boast or lust is finite, they share, even extend it; but if not, become famously quiet, leave for shelters. (Often, in dreams, the palace is a shelter.) The men are as brave as any, die for nonsense, believe nonsense, work and brood on it for decades, marry, confront babies and failure. But only when they hear the inner call, louder than drums, of unredeemable violence do they think upon their trembling king and know fear. Disputation
The smile is an expression in a language he thinks he can fake. I’m glad, it says, to talk philosophically, dispassionately; I can do that, i.e., fake that, although it’s a waste of time compared to the unambiguous Word I channel, which, by the end of the exercise, will be heard. – I ask about the slogan Love the sinner, hate the sin. He allows how that’s gospel. But what, I ask, if the sinner doesn’t view what he does as sin? If he doubts even the meaning of the term? Or that of “love,” as you use it? I don’t pose these questions all at once. Leave time for his many clichés and quotations. The smile fades; for all my earnestness, he thinks I’m trying to mock him. Ends by saying, Such a person is fully in Satan’s grip, and no longer deserves the sin/sinner distinction. That’s what I thought, I say, releasing the safety on my Glock.
Towards the end, videos, or what replaces them, become … arty. Let’s say lyrical. The term “attention span” has given way to assumed inattention, like the swell and fall of tides, and the metric is how long before this turns to annoyance. In the shade of some classy, boarded, European building, beside trees with expensive leaves still on them, two actors await their cue. They’re good: already there’s nothing in his mind but love, do-or-die desire, sweet resolve to protect her forever. She: practicalities, slight fear, memories of old flames, betrayals over a steady thump of longing – audiences like that. The heat, makeup, evacuation schedule are professionally boxed away. No wires show. They walk forward under the leaves. Hold hands. No talking in this one, only feeling, feeling. Three minutes. Thumbs up from a tech who is hooked into both. Only in the last second, where what used to be a river laps the windows of the whatever-it-was, palace, is their focus threatened.
The head of the largest “defense of family” outfit is also a reverend (ten-thousand-seat thing near Dallas), Fox staple, boyish-looking and secretly gay. Also gay is his major backer who is also the major donor for six candidates and on speed-dial to half the Senate. The closet for him is a convenience, not a necessity. He looks like a crocodile, but with his bucks that’s hot. They meet at one of his mansions or remote, discreet hotels whose décor is Victorian-sweet. There, through the magic of poetry, which is like and unlike that of media, they talk interestingly. No, says the rev, I feel no particular sense of sin. Nor do I wish I didn’t have to lie; I don’t think I’m lying. Truth is different in different contexts. Fervor must be focused, real faith can’t be cheated, and nothing is accomplished without an enemy. That’s true, says the backer. Any sale, even of an index future, triumphs over the poorer person one was a moment before. And so does any purchase made in debt. (He looks, at this moment, like a satisfied crocodile.) There’s also, says the rev, the thing about the superior man dancing over danger, avoiding yet ignoring risks. I deeply love and despise my flock. The backer sighs: I envy, though, your, what is it now, three children? How you’ve managed … The rev shrugs, draws his finger over his friend’s scales; then they get down to business. Actually, their secret talk may be less Nietzschean, more romantic: futile speculation whether they ever may grow old and rot together.
He wills himself to sleep. But the darkness available to the will is compromised. Dream-material, stored in over-big and over-lit sheds, is all raucous plastic. Women
come out of websites or old magazines. At least the car drives itself though sketchy mountains, and may be less boring than flying. He’ll have to put it all together
himself; invent tools to make the tools to make the tools, and hands to use them. Streams in the finished valleys, fish in the streams, and a race of loyal, good-natured, prehensile
bears to eat the fish. (He’s done with man.) They will confront with stolid awe the challenge of happiness and a noble cultural anguish when at last he leaves them. Not to awake.
Author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS, both published by Story Line Press. A collection of shorter poems, A POVERTY OF WORDS, 2015 from Prolific Press. Another collection, LANDSCAPE WITH MUTANT, to be published by Smokestack Books (UK), 2018. Has appeared in Hudson Review, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Die Gazette (Munich), The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Representations,Magma (UK), Iota (UK), Bateau, Main Street Rag, Fulcrum, etc. Online, poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Allegro, Hamilton Stone Review, Diagram, BlazeVox, The New Hampshire Review, Mudlark, Occupoetry, Faircloth Review,Triggerfish, Thunderdome, etc. Adjunct professor creative writing George Washington University.